TFR 14 – Towards a Renovated International System


This report, written after the first three years of the Trilateral Commission, is a broad overview of the process of renovating the international order. The international order created after World War II is no longer adequate to cope with new global problems and processes of change. To be sure, the international order has not collapsed under the strains of this decade, but the legacy of this period is a much sharper questioning of the features of the existing system and how it functions.

The most pervasive characteristic of the current situation is the steady expansion and tightening of the web of interdependence. Management of interdependence has become indispensable for world order, particularly given its dual character: Intensive interaction between societies at various levels is essential for economic well-being, but it produces or threatens mutual interference across national frontiers, interference which may jeopardize its very advantages. Interdependence complicates the management of the modern welfare state, transmitting problems from other countries and interfering with national priorities and policies. Conversely, the management of interdependence is inevitably complicated by conflicting national priorities. Moreover, current arrangements are severely criticized by many developing countries, which demand a greater say in international decision-making and a more equitable sharing of benefits from the world economy.

The requisite cooperation for both the short and long term must be based on the shared conviction that it maximizes overall gain and increases the welfare of all those involved. Such cooperation faces major obstacles, however, which a realistic strategy must take into account: the desire for national autonomy, the impact of domestic politics, disparities in conditions among countries, and the sheer number of countries.

What principles should guide the trilateral countries in their approach to management of our increasingly interdependent world? With its numerous complexities and uncertainties, the temptation will be strong to adopt a completely pragmatic approach; in short, to "play it by ear." The trilateral countries should surmount this limited view and have in mind a broad strategy for the management of interdependence. At the same time, however, large-scale detailed blueprints for action are too ambitious at present and likely to lead to no action. Many countries are not yet prepared or willing to act in close cooperation with others, and the sheer scale of projected international cooperation may over-burden existing capacities. What is required is a strategy for action which will provide (1) a definition of the essential goals for the long term, to provide a sense of direction for the next decade or two; and (2) a set of guidelines for specific actions and decisions, taking account of current limitations and obstacles to cooperation.

The essential goals for a global strategy (Chapter IV) include keeping the peace, managing the world economy, contributing to economic development and the satisfaction of basic human needs, and promoting human rights. Within these broad goals, countries should work out modes for international cooperation that are practicable and effective for each of the particular problems they face. There are several important guidelines for making problems more manageable, for facilitating cooperation amidst diversity in the management of interdependence (Chapter V):

* Piecemeal Functionalism. In general, the prospects for achieving effective international cooperation can often be improved if the issues can be kept separate what we call piecemeal functionalism. Progress on solutions is likely to be faster and the solutions are likely to be more durable.

* Rule-Making with Decentralization. In devising international arrangements to deal with a particular problem or manage some continuing aspect of interdependence, the objective should be to minimize the extent and complexity of cooperation required. In general, there should be a deliberate effort to design the international regime as a framework of rules, standards, and procedures and to decentralize decision-making and operational management.

* Flexible Participation. Trust and goodwill are low at a global level; mutual suspicion and hostility are high. Hence wide participation may impede action on important issues and produce solutions too complex or too compromised to be effective, Greater progress can be made when smaller groups of countries collaborate together. Participation should be guided by the nature of the problem, the degree of interest in the solution, and the prospect of success in reaching agreement on a solution.

* Evolutionary Change. It would not make sense in today's world to freeze any institutional arrangement into a particular pattern or membership. Collaboration among nations must allow for, and even encourage, changes in institutional relationships (including participation) as objective circumstances change, so that effective decision-making and management may continue.

There will of course be exceptions to these principles, where seemingly diverse issues cannot be effectively uncoupled, where effective management requires international management and not merely rule-making, and where effective solutions require universal participation. General adherence to the principles will make more tolerable these occasional exceptions. International management will be more readily accepted in a few distinctive areas, for instance, if it rests within a general approach which strongly supports and reinforces national autonomy within a framework of agreed rules.

In the current situation of complexity and uncertainty, there is a need for strong "poles of cooperation" which will attract and draw in others. We believe the trilateral region can serve as such a pole. Close trilateral cooperation, which must be responsive to the needs and problems of others, will improve the chances of a smooth and peaceful evolution of the global system.

The Appendix to the report illustrates its general approach in four particular areas:

* International Monetary Arrangements. There is wide scope for different exchange rate arrangements by individual countries, within a broad international framework. The essential cooperation for maintaining that framework involves relatively few countries, although all countries have an interest in it. The failure of attempts to draw up a detailed blueprint applicable to all participating countries suggests the wisdom of a more pragmatic approach, concentrating on improvements on the arrangements we currently have.

* Pollution of the Environment. Most of the world's pollution is generated in the industrialized countries. Therefore, action by the trilateral countries can make a particularly important contribution to a global task by focusing on their own region, while assisting developing countries in the field of environmental technology. Rule-making at the trilateral level should generally take the form of conscious parallelism in national standards. Management and policing can, for the most part, be left to the national level. At the global level, trilateral countries should support the efforts of the United Nations Environment Programme.

* National Social and Industrial Policies. Under the right conditions, a high degree of decentralization in national determination of such policies is both possible and desirable. With some areas of national action and international cooperation working well notably the stabilization of total demand and management of flexible exchange rates structural policies can be handled more easily because wide diversity can be made tolerable.

* Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy. A strategy based on a separation of issues appears difficult in this area, but it is useful in searching for cooperative approaches to distinguish between the supply of a) reactors, b) enrichment technology and c) reprocessing technology. There is general agreement that every country should have access to reactor technology, provided it is willing to accept IAEA safeguards and controls. It is the sensitive parts of the fuel cycle which are at the heart of international concern. The trilateral countries cannot manage this area alone. The cooperation of other suppliers and major recipients of nuclear technology is vital. A concerted international effort involving both sides is necessary to develop further the instruments of non-proliferation while at the same time respecting the desire of many countries to expand nuclear energy generation. Meanwhile, steps should be avoided which make such a task more difficult at a later stage.


Richard N. Cooper, Professor of International Economics, Yale University
Karl Kaiser, Director, Research Institute of the German Society for Foreign Affairs; Professor of Political Science, Cologne University
Masataka Kosaka, Professor of Law, Kyoto University
Robert R. Bowie, Professor of International Affairs, Harvard University (Special Consultant)

Table of Contents

Summary of Report
I. The Purpose of the Report
II. The Nature of the Problem

A. The Current Predicament
- An Interdependent World
- Interdependence and the Welfare State
- Interdependence and National Roles
B. The Need for Cooperation for World Order
C. Obstacles to Cooperation
- Desire for Autonomy
- Impact of Domestic Politics
- Disparities in Conditions
- Political Barriers
5- Number of Countries
III. The Need for a Strategy
A. Limits on Joint Action
B. The Trilateral Role
C. Elements of a Global Strategy
IV. Tasks of a Strategy
A. Keeping the Peace
B. Managing the World Economy
- Coordination of Macroeconomic Policy
- Maintaining a Liberal Trading Regime under Conditions of Interdependence
- The Monetary System
- Global Problems
C. Contributing to Economic Development
- Stabilization
- Structure of Production
- Alleviating Poverty
D. Human Rights
V. Cooperation Amidst Diversity: Some Modest Guidelines
A. Piecemeal Functionalism
B. Rule-Making With Decentralization
C. Flexible Participation
D. Evolutionary Change
E. Institutions
VI. Conclusion

  • Topics: Economics, Trade, Multilateral Cooperation
  • Region:  North America, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Pacific Asia
  • Publisher:  The Trilateral Commission
  • Publication Date:  © 1977
  • ISBN:  0-930503-46-5
  • Pages:  68
  • Complete Text: Click here to download